1. How to Think Like a Scientist – Thieving Space Zombie

phineas_scientist001Space zombies stole my cellphone. Well, maybe. I can’t find my phone, and it might have been taken by space zombies. Fortunately there is a proven way of helping me solve the problem of my missing phone. It’s called “the scientific method” and you don’t have to be a scientist to use it. You probably use parts of it already without realizing it.

I figured that my phone was probably in the kitchen…Nope. How about in my book bag? Nope. Bedroom? Nope. Now it’s still possible that my phone was taken by space zombies, but before I make a guess like that, I should rule out a few more likely possibilities. Like maybe it’s in my bedroom. Nope.

Time to try a new approach. I use a friend’s phone and call my number. Then I listen closely and hear it faintly ringing in the living room. It was buried in the couch cushions. Success! I guess I was wrong about those space zombies. This time.

Believe it or not, what I just did was follow the scientific method to find my phone.

The scientific method is simply a logical way of discovering things about the world. The basic steps are:

  1. Ask a question. (Where’s my cellphone?)
  2. Make an educated guess. (Maybe it is in the kitchen)
  3. Test the guess (Look in the kitchen)
  4. Review the results (I didn’t find the phone)
  5. If need be, go back to step 2 and try again. (Maybe it is in my book bag)

Scientists call step 2 by a fancy name – “hypothesis“.
And step 3 is called an “experiment”. An experiment tests a hypothesis.

There are a few other important aspects of the scientific method that I will describe in future posts, like the concepts of “falsification” and “repeatability”.

For now just remember that the scientific method is best way to answer questions about our world. It’s the way scientists think.

So no space zombies…for now. But where did I put my phone?


Fun Phineas Fact
Some people use the word “theory” in place of “hypothesis” as in “I have a theory that space zombies stole my phone”. This is wrong! Definitions are very important to scientists, and “theory” has a very specific meaning. Don’t make this common mistake. An educated guess is a hypothesis. We’ll talk more about theories in the future.


References
Website: Science Fair Projects – The Scientific Method

Podcast: Skeptics Guide 5×5 episode 65.

Photo Credit: Illustration by Preston McDaniels for Phineas L. MacGuire…Erupts! The First Experiment. Text Copyright 2006 by Frances O’Roark Dowell. Illustrations Copyright 2006 by Preston McDaniels. For more information on Preston McDaniels, visit him online at: www.prestonmcdaniels.com